Times, they are a changin’ in the Grand Arcade as an appeal’s launched to restore a shamefully neglected Leeds icon. In this article, originally commissioned for the Leeds Culture Vulture website, I share some memories of the Grand Arcade Clock and look forward to its restoration.
It clicked and whirred for almost a century until it stopped – short – maybe never to go again at some point in the 1990s, by which time the elegant shops had long gone and a distinctly less elegant club scene had taken over. Leeds didn’t seem to care very much either way; but then Leeds was also the city that turned down Anthony Gormley. It’s hardly surprising that it completely ignored a treasure which other places would have featured in brochures and promoted worldwide as a serious tourist attraction.
When your correspondent was a very small boy in the mid sixties no visit to Leeds was complete without dad taking me into the Grand Arcade to watch the clock. I would be hopping from foot to foot with excitement at the prospect of watching the figures parade. The last two minutes before the top of the hour seemed to drag for an eternity.
Then it happened. Ding dong! The knights at each side of the dial would strike their bells with their pollaxes. Four times, for the four quarters. Then a bigger bell somewhere would chime the hour. After a pause for effect the left-hand door would open, and a procession of jerky, stiff figures would emerge.
Now, after two decades of neglect, the Grand Arcade is coming back to life – most notably through the efforts of Anthony Blackburn and his team at Handpicked Hall, a sort of department store of arty, crafty and foody independents located in a light, airy white space that was until recently both literally and metaphorically Purgatory; the mid-level of the swingin’ hotspot known as “Heaven & Hell”.
I, for one, hope they succeed.
“Leeds Today” is a twenty minute local TV news programme broadcast at 4.30pm every weekday afternoon from now until 13 September from studios at Leeds Trinity University.
All still photos courtesy of Mike Othick (email@example.com)
Video by Daniel Lynch.